It’s been 7 years since Canonical failed to raise meet its crowdfunding goals for the Ubuntu Edge smartphone that was supposed to be a phone you could also use as a desktop computer thanks to “convergence,” which is a fancy way of saying you could plug in a keyboard, mouse, and display and use it like a desktop computer.

Over most of that time… not much happened on the convergence front. But now that companies including Pine64 and Purism are starting to ship phones designed to run Linux, convergence is a thing again.

Today Pine64 announced a new PinePhone Convergence Pack that bundles a USB-C docking station with a PinePhone sporting slightly better-than-usual specs. Connect an external display and you can use it to run desktop apps.

I suspect it’s not a coincidence that several hours after that announcement, Purism published a blog post about “real convergence.” Without mentioning the PinePhone by name, the blog post points out that the Purism Librem 5 smartphone runs the same PureOS GNU/Linux operating system as the company’s laptop computers. It’s just been tweaked with a custom kernel so it can run on ARM hardware, and Purism designed a mobile-friendly shell.

Theoretically any desktop Linux app that’s compatible with ARM architecture should run on a Librem 5 when you connect an external display. But running some of the same apps without an external screen may be a problem if their developers haven’t optimized them for small screens.

One other difference between the Librem 5 and the PinePhone though? Purism’s phone sells for $749 and up, while you can pick up a Pinephone for $149 and up.

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6 Comments

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  1. I’m just thinking …

    Would not it be better if we can connect such convergence capable mobile/tablet with large display (with higher resolution) & input devices wirelessly.

    I mean, is it really necessary to use such hardware dock (even in near future) ?

    I have not tested yet such docked setup, so I would like to know:
    If I have a 1080p mobile phone & a 1080p large monitor/TV,
    then will there be any great difference if using a dock or using googlecast/chromecast/Miracast ?

    1. @Ram
      I can tell you from personal experience that connecting a device to a Miracast dongle plugged into a display is noticeably laggy, especially compared to plugging a device into the same display directly.
      It’s not as bad as what you get when you use Remote Desktop over a slow wifi connection, although I still think I’d find it unpleasant to use if I wanted to draw something or do anything else that relied on accurate clicking and dragging.
      Also, when everything is wireless, whatever battery lasts the shortest determines how long you can use your whole setup, unless you use a USB hub to power all it’s parts at once, and course that’s just as messy as the dock pine64 showed off.
      And if you need portability, ideas like the Nexdock are preferable to that in my opinion due to keeping things together.

  2. Many Smartphone apps run in a tiny Smartphone sized window, regardless of the display size. What’s the point of a larger desktop or laptop display if the app can’t be resized to take advantage of the larger screen area? For example, lots of Google Play Android mobile apps still run in a tiny 6 inch or smaller window when I install them on my 13.3 inch Chromebook. Sure, these apps CAN run on a laptop, but I don’t consider that ‘convergence’ if the app can’t be run using the full screen.

    1. Also, Smartphone apps are designed for touchscreens. It can be difficult to use these apps with a keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop without a touchscreen. For example, I just tried playing Angry Birds 2 on my touchscreen-less Chromebook. While the touchpad did work, it’s not as intuitive as a touchscreen and I have to click the mouse buttons instead of tapping the screen. So instead of playing Angry Birds with 1 finger, I have to use 2 hands.

  3. I don’t think purism’s article should be read in an “us vs them” context. A lot of what they do on the software side, except specific kernel optimizations, benefits the pinephone as well. Mobian uses that shell they did a lot of work on. And it is in fact possible to run pureos on the pinephone (although I don’t think a lot of people do that). A GTK application that was modified to use libhandy will work on any screen that small as well as desktop sized screens. So really, they’re helping with convergence on both devices.
    It’s pretty clear from the article that “fake convergence” would be stuff like userlANd or Anlinux or using a VM on an Android phone, or fussing around with using both desktop and mobile applications on the same device, or dual booting android and some hacked together distro that isn’t really linux because it uses the android kernel.

    1. I think their argument is false.
      Android Apps can’t work on Windows because Google does not own Microsoft. When you dock an Android Device to an external display/laptop/tablet, you do have Convergence as defined by Purism, because you are running the same Operating System and you are using the same Apps just re-sized to fit the new display. You can’t just use “dirty words” (like Mobile Apps) to make your case, because it is entirely possible for a Mobile App to be more than enough for desktop use, or in some cases, be even more powerful/featured.

      And oppositely, Microsoft had an even better implementation of Convergence back in 2016, when they were releasing their final efforts, on Windows10 Mobile. It was using the same base as Windows10 Pro, and running the same UWP programs. The feature was called Continuum, and it was revolutionary. However, MS was about 5-10 years too late in the race for the mobile ecosystem.

      And then you have Apple. Coming shortly you will be creating an iOS App, and it can be deployed on an iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac, and iTV. They will all be using a shared ARM processor, a shared SDK, and a shared iOS-platform. So they really have achieved Convergence there too, but it requires you to purchase several different devices from Apple.

      …if anything their argument only makes sense against Samsung’s DeX, which used to run a full linux distro alongside the AndroidOS. I think they’ve removed that feature, so that it simply upscales AndroidOS instead. But to be honest neither Samsung nor Google ever had the competence to do this well. MS had the competence but have stupid leadership. Apple wins by default, they have proper vision and play the “infinite game”, rather than reactionary or short-term strategies.